what is knowledge? (this has emerged as an important question from the connectivism conference)*

position paper
What is knowing (the knowledge / knower dialectic)? (Bill)

Even though 90% of cognition is "being there" (enactivism) we still have a very strong brain-centric view of human cognition because the remaining 10% is what separates humans from other animals. It is hard to break from this brain-centric, abstract general problem solver view of human development, which is historically reinforced by Plato's and Descartes' idealism, the idea that Mind somehow stands above our embodied actions in the real world.

In the idealism / materialism philosophical divide I am standing on the side of materialism. Some people have misunderstood what I mean by breaking from a brain-centric view of knowledge. They think this means that I am searching for some sort of transcendent, spiritual view of Mind where mysterious things happen that cannot be explained by science. In this view it appears to be arrogant to attempt to seek a scientific resolution of the mind / body problem. In this view miracles of Mind happen that we cannot explain. This is not what I am trying to achieve at all! I am looking for a scientific explanation of Mind. My argument is that the brain-centric general problem solver approach is not a scientific approach. The goal is to find a better scientific approach.

Vygotsky's ideas on language for self development (that we literally author ourselves with language) and Papert's constructionist ideas on "objects to think with" provide a sound historical basis on which to build further. Cognition and the Mind are distributed from the brain to the environment (not a new idea). Any new learning theory which is developed needs to understand and respect this valuable heritage (Kerr page, presentation to connectivism conference)

Alan Kay has presented a list on non universals, more advanced knowledge that is not learnt spontaneously and needs to be taught in some way. This would suggest an ongoing important role for some sort of schooling or teaching despite the fact that it is possible in the abstract to obtain all important knowledge through the internet.

Dennett's ideas on the evolution of humans as hypothetical Popperian ("What do I think about next?") and Gregorian creatures ("How can I learn to think better about what to think about next?") further develops the essential behaviourist truth (behaviours that are rewarded tend to be repeated) into the inner environment (dennett page, also repeated on behaviourism page)

Rodney Brooks has overturned traditional AI thinking (good old fashioned AI) with his emphasis on embodiment ("The world grounds regress") and situatedness ("The world is its own best model"), aka the physical grounding approach (AI_behaviour page).

Robust knowledge is fat and cross linked, not skinny, linear chains. If you only know something in one way you scarcely know it at all (from Weinberger, Minsky, knowledge page)

Consciousness - our brain contains a virtual serial machine built on top of the hard wired evolved natural predominant parallel processing. This idea from Dennett of a logical serial machine built on top of a hard wired parallel pattern recognition I think might resolve the dilemma of the missing unexplained 10% of cognition (Daniel Dennett, consciousness page)

Andy Clark's theory of embodied active cognition provides an up to date view (enactivism page). It is more fruitful to think of brains as controllers for embodied activities. Abandon the idea of neat dividing lines between perception, cognition and action. Abandon the idea of an executive centre of higher level reasoning. Abandon research methods that divorce thought from embodied action taking. We are natural born cyborgs.

PLANNED ADDITIONS
Gordon Pack - preferred the term knowing, not knowledge because it implies a knowledge / knower dialectic

Hofstadter - What is the letter 'a'? as the most important question for AI (perception is where it is at!)

Perception as an active, action oriented process (active perception) - in "Being There", Ch. 1

the role of that our strong intuitions / illusions eg. that we have an internal Watcher, a Central Meaner play in preventing our understanding of issues such as consciousness. Dennett argues that our consciousness like our perception has far more gaps in it than we are well, consciously, aware of (in Consciousness Explained)


formative notes:

Minsky says that if you only know something in one way then you scarcely know it at all It follows that to understand knowledge you need to examine lots of different types of knowledge.

Actually Minsky is saying that scientists like to make theories that are delicate and fragile - simple, slender chains of logic - because such theories can be easily tested. He then goes onto say that when mathematics is taught like this in the classroom through equations and formulaes that students often don't get it because if they get one step wrong the whole structure fails. He then suggests that we ought to teach mathematics so that it is more robust and cross linked. Real life cognitive structures are robust and cross linked.
- (Society of Mind, 18.8)

ie. scientific knowledge is one type of skinny knowledge ( Weinberger's term); fat knowledge is cross linked, robust, meaty, knowing something in lots of different ways

What types of knowledge are there?
knowing how, knowing that (propositional), see Ryle
is this the same as process (knowing how) and content (knowing that)?
Knowing how is embodied, eg. walking, grasping. There is a danger we won't count this as knowledge because we have long forgotten how we learnt it, or even forgotten that we once did learn it, it has become second nature - invisible
tacit knowledge - implied, existing without being stated

16 habits of the mind approach treats the mind as though it needs to be trained in the same way that the body needs to be trained to compete
(the phrase habits of mind was first used by Hume? Ref: Kinds of Minds, p. 113))

conscious, subconscious - consciousness represents only a small narrow channel of everything we know
daniel dennett has attempted to explain consciousness (Consciousness Explained)

meta knowledge, eg. thinking about thinking
private, public

scientific knowledge, abstract knowledge
but Kuhn and Gould say that our theories alter our perceptions
perception - what we see depends on what we already know
Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould
"The expectations of theory colour perception to such a degree that new notions seldom arise from facts collected under the influence of old pictures of the world. New pictures must cast their influence before facts can be seen in different perspective"



bricolage
Papert and Turkle: Epistemological Pluralism, claimed that bricolage was not inferior to western scientific abstraction

distributed knowledge, is this the same as connective knowledge
Downes and Siemens seem to be claiming that this is something new but I don't think it is. Dogs marking out their territory is distributed knowledge

individual knowledge, group knowledge (the wisdom of crowds)

authorised knowledge, discredited knowledge; truth, lies or false information
professional knowledge, expert knowledge, amateur knowledge, pro-ams (the pro-am revolution blog)
knowledge is justified true belief” Plato
I think the Plato definition has amnesia or blindness about knowing how, embodied knowledge
We privilege a brain centric, abstract concept of knowledge and Mind over embodiment, knowing how - this has been a bias since the time of Plato and reinforced by Descartes
See enactivism

Plato was an idealist?

epistemology - the nature of knowledge
genetic epistemology (Piaget)
the evolution of knowledge inside an individual

universal and non universal knowledge
Some knowledge is learnt spontaneously (eg.talking) whilst other knowledge has to be taught in some way (eg. reading and writing)
Alan Kay presented a slide on universal and non universal knowledge at a Python conference in 2006
see non universals
"The most critical thing about the 20th and 21st centuries is that there's a bunch of new invented ideas—many of them connected with modern civilization—that our nervous systems are not at all set up to automatically understand. Equal rights, for example. Or calculus. You won't find these ideas in ancient or traditional societies.

If you take all the anthropological universals and lay them out, those are the things that you can expect children to learn from their environment—and they do. But the point of school is to teach all those things that are inventions and that are hard to learn because we're not explicitly wired for them. Like reading and writing"
- from alankay page





Weinberger Ch 6. Knowledge of 'Small Pieces Loosely Joined' (2002)
Why do we listen to (certain) people in the first place? (126)

GOFAI (good old fashioned AI) - search a database, expert systems - this is only a part of knowledge (127)
Herbert Simon, 1986, who created a theorem solving program (expert system approach)
"People solve problems by selective,heuristic search through large problem spaces and large data bases,using means-end analysis as a principal technique for guiding the search"

People generally do not make decisions in the way suggested by Herbert Simon.

Greeks - the world may look one way, the reality is different
shallow, surface knowledge and deep knowledge
Who to believe? Plato's response: “knowledge is justified true belief

Over the years fat, conversational knowledge has slimmed down due to the influence of philosophers, scientists and computers

Philosophers
Descartes, "I think therefore I am"
He was searching for certainty but this had led to people seeing philosophy as irrelevant because the criteria is too stringent

Scientists
want to learn about the world independent of human and personal biases
This simple ideas challenged by Thomas Kuhn, 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'
What counts as a fact depends upon the theory the scientist is operating under
nice quote from Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould:
"The expectations of theory colour perception to such a degree that new notions seldom arise from facts collected under the influence of old pictures of the world. New pictures must cast their influence before facts can be seen in different perspective"

Computers
Ray Kurzweil, "it is reasonable to estimate that a $1000 personal computer will match the computing speed and capacity of the human brain by the year 2020 .... We will be software not hardware" (133)

Weinberger challenges this notion: "... the premise that we're software slips by us with disarming ease" (133)

Hofstadter ("A Conversation with Einstein's Brain") and Searle (Chinese room thought experiment) have also promoted this disembodied view of knowledge

"... we have allowed knowledge to become so thin that it doesn't have skin, bones, or any bodily residue at all" (136)

Weinberger relies on Andy Clark, 'Being There' (enactivism) that things in the world and our body enable our thinking

Traditional view of knowledge - "universal, dispassionate, eternal and objective - exactly what our bodies are not"
this view originates with the Greeks (? all the Greeks or mainly Plato?)
Knowledge is view as a pursuit for ascetics, nerds uncomfortable in their own skins
the sort of thing a computer or robot might do
code words: be realistic, be objective

Ironically, the web (machine mediated) turns this view of knowledge on its head
The web is argumentative, belligerant, prejudiced, funny
Knowledge is about arguing, is social, is personal (what matters), is a conversation, is about humour
We don't pursue anorexic, disembodied knowledge on the web
We listen to the context, we allow ourselves to be guided by details that we think embody the whole, this influences how much we believe another person

Return to Plato: “knowledge is justified true belief” (142)
this is like explaining the details of sex without mentioning the passion
why do we listen to someone in the first place? it's like the sound of voices at a party, we migrate to those we find interesting
humans are drawn to contexual relevance and also to irrelevance, eg. entertaining, funny
there isn't a meta data tag that can emulate human interests
A voice without passion, a disembodied voice is not listened to


George Siemens, Knowing Knowledge (connectivism)
"Knowledge has changed; from categorization and hierarchies, to networks and ecologies" (p. 7)

"This book seeks to tackle knowledge—not to provide a definition—but to provide a way of seeing trends developing in the world today. Due to the changed context and characteristics of knowledge, traditional definitions are no longer adequate. Language produces different meaning for different people. The meaning generated by a single definition is not sufficiently reflective of knowledge as a whole.

We are able to describe, not define knowledge.

Most leaders today would settle for a view of knowledge that enables them to take action consistent with core changes—so their organizations do not suffer from outdated actions.

Knowledge possesses two broad characteristics:
1. It describes or explains some part of the world (how atoms act, which companies to invest in for future growth, how diseases are spread),
2. We can use it in some type of action (building particle accelerators, investing, preventing disease)" (p. 8)


comment:
This is at stage 2 of Andy Clark's three stage progression of cognitive science:

first stage: classical cognitivism
- memory as retrieval from a stored symbolic database
- problem solving as logical inference
- cognition as centralised
- the environment as (just) a problem domain
- the body as input device

second stage: connectionist artificial neural networks
replaced the first three characteristics with
- memory as pattern re-creation
- problem solving as pattern completion and pattern transformation
- cognition as increasingly decentralised

the body and the world remained marginalised

third stage: Embodied active cognition
connectionist trio plus
- the environment as an active resource whose intrinsic dynamics can play an important problem-solving role
- the body as part of the computational loop


xxx